Obtaining Client Cooperation

A professional paralegal knows how to manage clients. In order to manage the client we need to bring him on board as a member of the legal team. For the most part this can be done relatively simply- communicate with the client, explain the process to the client and explain the client’s role in the process to the client. Dov Seidman, author of How, has explained this wonderfully in terms of business management in a way that can also apply to including the client in the legal team, in an interview with Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist and author of The World Is Flat, during an appearance at the National Press Club.

Seidman uses “The Wave” that often occurs in sports stadiums full of fans to illustrate his point. Think of the first person to attempt a Wave. How did he get it going. He did not turn to the person next to him an threatened him to get him to join in. Nor did he motivate the people who followed him with money, that is by offering them each twenty dollars to stand up and wave their hands at the right moment. Certainly he did not get the cooperation he wanted by keeping his plan secret. That is, he did not turn to the folks next to him and say “When I tell you, stand up and wave your hands, but I am not going to tell you why.” In order to get their cooperation and the collaboration he, as Seidman puts it, “shared his vision.”

All too often, we attempt to get our client’s cooperation through coercion (If you don’t get these answers into the court by Friday, the court may issue sanctions,) or promises of monetary reward (If you do what we say, you are more likely to win a big judgment.)  For many clients neither of these will be sufficiently motivating if we keep the reasons why their cooperation is important secret. Our clients will assist us best if we make them part of the team by “sharing the vision,” that is, by explaining to them what the legal process is for obtaining what they want (a successful outcome of their case, a smooth real estate closing, etc.) and what their role in that process is.

Every opportunity should be used to make the client part of the team. Starting with the initial client interview and continuing through every substantive client contact.

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